The Still (part three: the end) by Pete Warner

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SUMMARY: Entry for the may flash-fiction contest, themed "the hole"

Carse Montgomery's body lie before them in bloated, naked righteousness, eyes closed and mouth significantly open. An impressive assembly of the city's nobility listened and many nodded their sagacious affirmations. Misca watched them all. Some of the assembly she'd long known whispered doubts of her late Father's Holiness were suitably humbled, staring at their feet like Stills, mouthing silent pleas for forgiveness. A very necessary contrition indeed, for their actions had revealed how far from purity and salvation they themselves had strayed. Misca bit down on her contempt. Contempt for weakness was Holy but to reveal it directly was to show greater weakness. Misca finished the benison with her Father's favourite Truth.

"Four-and-Four: Beggars at the banquet and wolves at the door; The Holy find pristine solutions among a drab assembly of thoughts; See the beggars no longer hungry and the wolves well fed."

Drab assembly, indeed. Droll, Father, very droll.

A wave of mute feeling rolled around the faces around her. Caustic appreciation of wit here. Outrage there. Then all was drowned out by the sudden thump of the Heart Drum and the doors at the rear of the hall slid open.

No wolves there. Just Stills.

My Father's Stills, she thought, and all of them trying to contain the fierce joy that boiled in their eyes, the prospect of a second chance at salvation as they marched in sombre synchronicity with the pounding Heart Drum down the aisle toward her Father's blessed flesh.

"Two Fifty Six: In the Wake-Fires let the service of the Damned be judged; Flesh to ash and the Mercy of oblivion. Or Damnation ever after." Her voice was slow and sonorous as the Stills stooped and grasped the poles of the yew bed that her Father rested on and lifted him as they had done so often in his life. Sixteen of them in all, with Rosa, the oldSeneschal at their head. They carried their burden in time with the Drum down the aisle to the doors at the front of the assembly where Rosa rapped the doors with the head of Misca's Father's bone tipped staff and stood to one side. The doors slid into side-slots to reveal a smoke-blackened stone chamber, the floor little more than a grill. Dry, acrid air hit the front rows like a fist. The Stills never flinched. Instead they walked forward, into the Crematorium.

The Heart Drum stopped. Misca jumped when her Father's staff clattered to the floor. Rosa. Stupid, clumsy Still bitch! And as if to compound the error and shocking lapse in protocol, Rosa turned, there just within the chamber and faced out to the assembly, meeting their eyes.

No Still had ever failed to find Mercy in the Wake-Fire. A fact that kept the Still millions dedicated and focused on their service. But Rosa had Damned herself for eternity. Misca would watch the flame refuse her, then have her buried in a cess-pit forever.

A great cry from the assembly, one horrified voice in a thousand throats.

Rosa's hands were at her mouth, pulling at the Trammel. But copper was unbreakable and they couldn't...

A high, tearing sound. Blood and centuries old sand fell away to leave a sudden hole in a grey face. One Damned voice obliterated the world with a single word of Blasphemy, or perhaps a new Truth.

"No," said Rosa.